Top 10 Ways to Keep your Pet Out of the ER

An animal emergency hospital is definitely not a place you plan on visiting with your pet. The last thing anyone expects is to rush their ailing pet to the ER with trouble breathing, seizures, toxin ingestion or a broken bone. In recent years, more and more emergency hospitals have been opening around Boston. Gone are the days when you would page a veterinarian and they would go into the closed veterinary hospital at any hour to see your pet without even a technician available. It is great that we have this resource for animals when big emergencies happen.

The ER has experienced emergency doctors and veterinary technicians on 24/7 to help your pet. After the pet is stabilized the specialists in neurology, surgery cardiology, internal medicine, ophthalmology can work to find the source of the problem and remedy it. They are excellent at sending your primary veterinarian all the pertinent information the morning after the incident.

So as great as the ER docs are, how do hedge your bets so you are less likely to have an emergency visit?

Here’s my list.

1. Walk your dog on a non-extendable leash. Even if your dog is super recallable (comes when called 100% of the time) if it sees a squirrel and chases it as a car is passing your dog may be hit. I have had clients lose a dog in just this situation on an extendable leash because they could not hit the button to stop the play out of the leash.

2. Store your medications out of reach. Do not leave medicines around or on the coffee table. Dogs can eat antidepressants and pain meds and become severely ill. If you mistakenly give your cat your pill call your vet to find out how the particular med affects your pet.

3. Brush your pet’s teeth and get regular dental cleanings under anesthesia by your veterinarian. The brown stuff on your pet’s teeth is full of dangerous bacteria that eat through tooth enamel. Once bacteria get to the pulp and nerves your pet is in agonizing pain and the bacteria can and will spread from the tooth throughout the body via the rich blood and lymphatic supply to the tooth root. Bacteria can infect any organ in the body. Make appointments for regular physical exams for your pet at least every 6 months. That includes guinea pigs, rats, ferrets, iguanas, snakes, turtles and birds. Don’t skip them because your pet looks “OK”. I hear this on a regular basis about cats. “She’s a patient of yours but we haven’t brought her in for a few years because she looks good.”

4. Regular physical exams are the bedrock of veterinary medicine because they protect your pet against disease through early detection. Early discovery and treatment of masses, dental fractures and root abscesses, tick-borne infections, kidney, liver, and heart disease, while they can be treated will be much more affordable than a surprise visit to the ER. Why every 6 months? Because subtle problems become big problems much faster in an organism that is aging at a rate 10 times faster than a human being.

5. Keep pets out of your garbage and mulch pile. Dogs love to raid the trash barrel in the kitchen. Chicken or pork bones and decomposing food can lead to severe vomiting and diarrhea and possible perforation of the gastrointestinal tract. Know what basic things are toxic to pets, for example, chocolate, chewing gum with xylitol, rat poison, cocoa-based mulch, ibuprofen, Tylenol aspirin, grapes, avocado, and onions.

6. Remember to give your dog or cat heartworm preventative medicine and flea and tick prevention year round. These meds also prevent pets from being infected with intestinal parasites that can spread to humans and cause blindness.

7. Pets should not be left outdoors in the severe heat or cold without your supervision. Just 5 to 10 minutes and then back inside again. No pet should ever be left in the backyard tied to a leash or a rope. A pet can strangle themselves easily under these conditions.

8. Never leave your pet in your car in the severe heat or cold for any amount of time. And do not drive with your dog in the bed of your truck. Tying them in with a leash will not help them when they fall out.

9. Realize that if ingested, there are huge arrays of items that can become a foreign body for your pet. We vets have removed sumo wrestlers, finger puppets, entire rope toys, string, pieces of Kong toys, golf balls and so much more, out of pets’ stomachs.

10. Microchip your pet even if it is always living indoors or always goes outdoors on a leash. Unlike 30 years ago, almost everyone knows you don’t just let your dog out the back door anymore and cats are much safer indoors than out. However, escapes happen when guests, children or workmen accidentally release pets. Cats fall through screen windows and escape and dogs dig and squeeze through fences. The microchip is implanted with a needle similar to a vaccine needle and is nontoxic. Veterinary practices, dog officers and animal rescue agencies all have the scanners to ID a dog

Clearly the things you need to do to prevent emergencies are not difficult but are basic consistent pet care. If a problem crops up unexpectedly you can always call your vet for an appointment or the ER if it is after your veterinarians regular hours.